The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

This book is about the water. Imagine the United States fragmented. Texas has fallen away and there is a fence, much like the one we put up to block immigrants now from Mexico.

Angel is what they call “A Water Knife”. He does the dirty work for the power brokers all fighting for the water rights to what is left of the Colorado River. Angel was hired by a woman named Catherine Case. She found him in a jail but under a false name, which, to all intents and purposes, made him a ghost.

Catherine has a group of “Water Knives” that work for her so she can obtain water rights for Las Vegas. Her nickname is “Queen of the Colorado.”

Angel drives all over Phoenix in his Tesla, an all electric car that actually exists today. Ironically, with gas prices going down right now, sales of the Tesla are a bit off. Americans have short memories and that is what Angel counts on.

Then there is Lucy Monroe, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who is closely following the water wars. Somewhere, someone has the papers to the key water rights sold by an Indian tribe in the early 1800’s and they are the only water rights that count.

In shanty-towns around the cities in Nevada, there are pumps where people go to buy water; running water outside the main cities is a thing of the past. Water is more valuable than gold.

Angel and Lucy Monroe catch a relationship on the fly and she saves his life as he saves her. The most powerful cartels are the water cartels and the narcotic cartels. When people lose all the things that we all strive for, there is nothing left but to get high and keep a steady water supply.

But as Angel says, “when things are like this alliances shift like sand. Someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.”

This is Paolo Bacigalupi’s first totally adult book since The Wind-Up Girl, which is about similar events in Thailand where everything is measured in precious energy units. Night Shade Books put it out in such a small run because they felt it was so complex that it would be a no seller.

But suddenly they were sold out of The Wind-Up Girl and more orders were flowing in. Printing after printing and each printing sold out as the book was Hugo Nominated and Paolo Bacigalupi became a Locus Award winning author.

Soon after the powerful success of The Wind-Up Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi put out two young adult books in rapid succession; one called Ship-Breaker, which was a runaway best seller that won the Michael I. Printz Award and a National Book Award Finalist. His next book was called The Drowned Cities and both books literally flew out of the stores, bought by young adults and older people too.

His next book, The Doubt Factory, was a young adult novel also but all three books sold to adults just as well. Go to and see my review of The Doubt Factory.

Like The Windup Girl, I predict The Water Knives, will be another award winning power seller. It takes place in the separated United States in the near future.

The main characters, their lives linked by blood and water, are Lucy Monroe, the reporter, Angel, the water knife who works for Catherine Case, and Maria Villarosa, a young refugee from Texas who is always on the edge of disaster.

Paolo Bacigalupi is right on the cusp of Climate Change and is accurate in his vision of the water wars that have already started in the Southwest. He writes about the America that will come about if we continue to be blind to the damage caused by the extreme consumption, taking place in our ‘God Blessed United States of America.’

The city of Phoenix is dying. There are pumps like we see today in gas stations where people line up with their containers to fill with water. Lucy’s sister, back in New England, warned Lucy to come home but Lucy Monroe knows the big story about the water rights is just around the corner.

Lucy Monroe searches for the key to the big story of who owns the water rights as she walks through a morgue over-flowing with the bodies of refugees who fled from Texas. Angel passes the bodies as he flashes his police badge at Lucy, gripping her arm tightly, but when he looks into her eyes, the angel of death grins back at him. Lucy tries to pull away but sees herself in Angel’s eyes as they both look at her friend Jamie Sanderson, who is on a gurney with empty sockets instead of eyes.

Just the other day Jamie, also a reporter, was talking about the key to the Colorado River Compact. Lucy warned him that he was playing out of his league. The morgue is full of bodies, mostly victims of dust and thirst; Jamie has no eyes and is also missing other body parts.

Angel questions Lucy in the overflowing morgue. She looks at his badge, then sees the tattoo of the snake running up his arm. This man is death, thinks Lucy.

“I didn’t get your name,” Angel pressed. And Lucy knows.

Outside, everyone is walking quickly through the dust storm, tightening the dust mask with the REI microfilters. It’s time to go.

Angel screams down the road in his Tesla, soaring like a predatory bird. He knows that the woman reporter in the morgue sees the world like him. Only the water rights bring life.

“Cup or pour? Cup or pour? Cup or pour?” The money is in every drop.

This book, “The Water Knife” will own you. Once you pick it up, you will find it almost impossible to put down. Paolo Bacigalupi has created another masterpiece.

“The Water Knife will be released in Spring of 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York.